(This write up appeared in 'The Friday Times' Lahore in three parts, on 17, 24 and 31 January 2014. The author (that's me) consider it needs to be read as one whole. So, has taken the liberty to share the whole write up in one go)
There is No Insurgency in FATA
Prof. Ijaz Khan
Dept of International Relations
University of Peshawar
There is a continuous talk of an insurgency in FATA and the need to Counter Insurgency (COIN) action there since at least 2003-4. In 2004, Pakistan Army moved into FATA for COIN operations. Experts and others interested have strong opinion about how to end insurgency in FATA restore ‘writ of the State’ there.
One plans and acts according to the problem or challenge one is facing. Like a doctor can only prescribe correct medicine if s/he diagnoses the disease correctly, decision makers must first correctly identify the problem, its level, intensity and location, assess their own capabilities and take a decision accordingly. The debate revolves around a situation in FATA and more specifically in the two agencies, North and South Waziristan. That situation is termed as insurgency and experts and others interested give opinion on how to deal with it, suggesting various counter insurgency policies and actions. The contention of this scribe is the situation in Waziristan and rest of FATA is not that of insurgency. This mistake in identifying the situation has resulted in counterproductive policies and actions.
Insurgency is a stage of taking of arms by a group of people against an established Government / State with a purpose of forcefully capturing the government or seceding from the state. It is a stage of advanced level of rebellion that has not reached the stage of Civil War yet. A rebellion is the initial taking up of arms by a group of individuals without much popular support or strength to control any territory and without any legitimacy. Insurgency is a step forward with some support among people and some limited control of territory. Both these stages are within the domestic jurisdiction of the given state. Civil war is the highest stage when the group challenging the established authority has almost equal power and exercises governmental authority is more control over a portion of territory. This stage may justify international intervention and thus the conflict becomes an international armed conflict.
There is another type of violent situation, when a territory of one party to a conflict falls in the hands of another, and is in its effective control. Such territory is referred to as enemy occupied territory. In the enemy occupied territory the armed conflict may be between those from the local population taking up arms against foreign occupiers, and the occupation forces suppressing them. The taking up of arms by the locals is referred to as resistance movement. In such situation the regular forces of the party to which this territory belonged legitimately can and normally will support the local resistance as well as take action against the occupation forces to re claim its territory. On the other hand the occupation forces will do all it can to end the resistance and protect its occupation.
Now let us see what is happening in FATA, as the different types of conflict require different strategies and actions. FATA is Pakistani territory with a special status, administered through Frontier Crimes Regulations (FCR)(made in 1901 with minor amendments in 2012) aimed at securing government property there and denial of its use as safe haven by fugitives from the settled areas. FCR provides for a system of collective responsibility, which simply means the whole tribe is held responsible on whose territory a violation of FCR takes place. The tribal people are expected to hand over / take action against any wanted persons taking refuge on their territory. For violations the whole tribe is punished through confiscation and / or destruction of property and arrest of elders, without any judicial overview. Check. The system worked well for a long time. However, the socio economic changes taking place had gradually eroded the basis of Pashtun tribal traditions on which the system was erected. By 2001, it had become an ungoverned territory and just the appearance of the system remained, in short an administrative vacuum. After 2001, when the Taliban government was overthrown in Afghanistan, the Afghan Taliban and terrorist groups from around the world for whom Afghanistan had become a safe haven, found FATA, for a variety of reasons, a convenient space for refuge and taking action inside Afghanistan. These groups filling the existing vacuum were able to get some limited support due to ethnic, religious and economic considerations.
The international forces in Afghanistan soon realized this abuse of FATA as a major hurdle in their success in Afghanistan. On their, specially US demands, Pakistan decided to send in Army in 2004, which started clashes between the outsiders, their local collaborators and the Pakistan Army, gradually leading to the emergence of Tehrik–e–Taliban Pakistan (TTP). The main function of TTP was and is to protect the use of FATA as safe haven for global terrorists, more specifically for all those acting inside Afghanistan. For that purpose, TTP has gradually filled the vacuum created by the collapse of the erstwhile administrative system, replacing the State and the tribal elder. However, the clashes there led Pakistani State, its Military, experts and the general public starting talking of an insurgency in FATA and debated the best possible method for counter insurgency.
When the situation was identified as insurgency, the strategy, plans and / or actions were educated by Counter Insurgency (COIN) considerations. The matter was further confused by Pakistan’s security policy that focuses on India, finds religious extremists as good tools of policy, determining choice of friends, solutions and approach to Afghanistan. This context led to a policy of separating those fighting in Afghanistan or supporting them from those active inside Pakistan, hence the policy of ‘Good and Bad Taliban’.
Pakistani State has followed a COIN policy towards the groups’ active inside Pakistan. COIN strategy normally has both military and non military parts. Both aim to isolate and gradually eliminate the insurgents. Military action in addition to targeting the active insurgents and reclaiming territory from insurgent control and/or influence also makes siding with the insurgents a bad bargain for the general public / potential insurgent recruits. The non military component popularly referred to ‘Winning Hearts and Minds’ (WHAM) aims to win the support of the general public, isolate the insurgents and also reduces / eliminates the attraction of insurgent recruitment and sympathy for them.
Pakistan’s COIN policy relies on the use of selective use of force against selective terrorist targets, mostly reacting when attacked, making Civilians take up arms against Terrorists under the collective responsibility system and a policy of deals with different groups. The WHAM part is also there and can be seen in the shape of Army engaged in various developmental activities that includes construction of roads, schools, water supply schemes etc. This policy follows the understanding that there is no relationship between those active inside Afghanistan and those inside Pakistan. The state and many others also consider there is a widespread support to the terrorists inside FATA.
In fact, the clashes in FATA were not insurgency in the standard understanding of the term. The people of FATA or any group of them has not take up arms against the authority of the state. The situation in FATA is closer to a territory under enemy occupation, the occupier being a collection of non-state force. Outsiders who include Arabs, Chechen, Uzbeks, Afghan Taliban and a number of Pakistani extremist religious elements mostly from South Punjab, with some from other parts too, have found FATA a good safe haven. The clashes between State forces and some of the armed groups, most grouped in the loose alliance of TTP, are more for the protection of these outsiders. These outsiders are mostly active in Afghanistan as well as elsewhere, even in a friendly country like China.
Pakistani forces using the outdated system of collective responsibility which is irrelevant to the current conflict and the socio economic situation in FATA, takes action against the tribe and its property for failing to stop any action against State that may have used that tribe’s territory results in situations like the tragic happenings of Mir Ali. In Mir Ali the State shelled the town of Mir Ali and also destroyed its Bazaar as punishment under collective responsibility rather than as action against terrorists. Such actions does not harm the terrorists, rather alienates the population. This also feeds the mistrust in the Pakistani State among the people. The policy of selective and reactionary actions also feeds the popular belief of collusion between the State and the terrorists. Those who can are leaving FATA towards different settled areas of the country becoming IDPs as they feel they cannot fight both the terrorists and the State.
The terrorists in a well thought out strategy give the appearance of a split between those whose interests are focused in Afghanistan and those who act inside Pakistan. In fact those acting inside Pakistan have kept the Pakistani forces engaged, thus providing a respite to those active inside Afghanistan. This also makes Pakistani state believe it is taking advantage of the split between the Terrorists. This policy, referred to as a policy of ‘Good and Bad Taliban’ also fits well in the perceptions of the mindset that considers Afghan Taliban as Pakistan’s best bet in Afghanistan, besides being a result of a mistaken reading of the situation.
The suspicions and mistrust of the people makes the WHAM actions of the State ineffective. The State as well as most others looks towards the nonexistent traditional Malik to reach out to the people. Political Parties which are main vehicle of connecting people with each other as well as with the State, though permitted to operate are still weak to assert themselves and are also not considered of much relevance by the State. There is a disconnect between the people of FATA and the State, which worsens the situation, alienates the people and leads to State policies and actions which are not based on ground realities.
Pakistan’s policy and action, Military, Administrative or political are based on mistaken reading of the situation in FATA. It needs to be understood that the people of FATA has not risen in any sort of revolt or insurgency. It is a territory under the effective occupation or if the word is too strong then effective control of forces inimical to the State and society of Pakistan which includes FATA. Therefore, the aim of policy and action should be to free a part of the territory of Pakistan known as FATA from illegitimate occupiers / controllers. These forces are a mix from outside Pakistan as well as inside it. The challenge in FATA is part of the challenge of terrorism and extremism present all over Pakistan. The object of policy and action has to be denial of the use of FATA space to these forces. Punishing people for being unable to fight these occupants is bad policy. Military action cannot succeed if it does not differentiate between Civilians and the Occupiers and if it continues to differentiate between Good and Bad Taliban. It is also vital to educate the security personnel that their job, especially in territory under their control is not securing an occupied enemy territory but securing a freed territory; the people of these territories are your people, not civilians of an enemy territory under your occupation. Reports from Swat as well as FATA shows Pakistani armed forces are behaving like an Army of occupation or at least the citizens of Pakistan from there (FATA) view it as such.
Negotiations with the opposite party in a war are not abnormal. However, that yields results when the ground situation demands it. You negotiate with the enemy when you want to either surrender or respond to the request from the other side that is ready for surrender. The opposite party is not the people of FATA, so suggestions of Jirgas or other such means traditionally used to resolve issues with the people of FATA, are not relevant.
Political solution does not mean negotiations with the occupiers but engaging the people in such a way that denies political space to the terrorists. Political party structures from within FATA and elected parliamentarians needs to be part of all deliberations supplanting and gradually replacing the Malik. The policy that aims at the impossible of reviving traditions and reversing social change to re create the changed tribal system, the basis of FCR has to go. It is not the question of whether that system was good or bad; it is a simple of socio economic evolution and accepting the irreversibility of such evolution. The people of FATA should own developmental policies and they should not be a type of bribe a foreign occupant gives to the people.
To conclude, the problem in FATA is one of the many manifestations of the problem with the State of Pakistan. The mistake in identification of the problem in FATA is a consequence of uneven and undemocratic basis and development of the State and Society of Pakistan. The corrective measures must start from correcting the relations between Islamabad and Rawalpindi and between the provinces and Islamabad. The self styled saviors of Pakistan must understand, the responsibility to save it lies squarely with the all the peoples inhabiting all the territories with all their diversities, not with the self-chosen few in sitting pretty in the corridors of power.